It has been a solid eight weeks since our education system has been turned on its ear by nationwide school closures. How’s it going? I know we have all been through a drastic and rapid change, and I hope you are hanging in there. I know juggling everything is like herding cats some days.
I’ve found that organization has been the key to maintaining my sanity. I know distance learning is being handled very differently by different districts, but the need for structure and routine (I think) is universal. I have also found that treating the closures due to Covid-19 as temporary has not been helpful. If you’re always waiting for something that just keeps getting put off, you are not making the best use of now. Most school districts have already called it in terms of children going back to the classroom this year. With the only certainty for the future being uncertainty, I say it’s a great time to use this opportunity to master distance learning and technology in order to be prepared for…whatever may happen next. Chances are some awesome progress in education is going to come out of this experience and make teaching and learning better for the future!
Here are my tips for transitioning to a successful distance learning model with your class.
1. Find a digital “home.”
A huge amount of backlash from parents about the transitions to distance learning is because of how disorganized some districts have been with their technology. Your first order of business is to find a place where you can post all of the important information parents and students need about your class and assignments, without jumping through a bunch of hoops. You can use your class website, class Facebook group, or any other way you used to communicate. Keep it visually
simple and up to date so everyone has a central location to refer to. Make sure you outline physical schedule items, like packet pick ups at school or work drop-off deadlines. You also need a digital home meeting place for your class. Most school districts have a preferred platform, but this needs to be set up to be accessed with minimal drama. There are so many options! Zoom, Google Meet, and Canva are just a few options being widely used. Give clear directions for logging on, and give students and parents plenty of opportunities to practice and master logging on.
2. Set your schedule.
It is so important to be flexible to everyone’s different needs right now. Not only is all of this new, but many in the world are under incredible amounts of pressure and stress. This schedule gives you an opportunity to be a place of refuge for your students. They may not always be able to attend virtual class, but you can always be there for them. I recommend starting simple, with one item on the agenda. Your schedule can build from there, taking baby steps and keeping realistic expectations about distance learning. Find a time frame that works for your students and set an upper limit for meeting academically. If your class is tech-equipped and have flexible schedules, you can meet in groups throughout the day, or
week. You can also stick to one session a week if that is better for your class. The key to the digital class meetings being a success is going to be (you guessed it) organization!
3. Organize your resources.
Do you have the resources to assign pencil and paper tasks with your district curriculum? Are you switching over to a fully digital teaching environment? Using websites and educational programs? Grabbing digital resources over on TPT? Incorporating educational podcasts and videos? Whatever hybrid program you are setting up needs to be streamlined for ease of use by your students and their families. If you want to assign math fluency, find the program you like best and stick to that. Same for the domains of ELA, keep it simple so families aren’t juggling 100 different usernames, passwords, and site addresses. It is better to add on more later if your class can handle it than to overwhelm them in the beginning.
4. Keep your class meetings fun and educational.
Organize your class meetings to have some of the same spunk and energy they did in person. Hit the important academic elements needed for the day, but allow for student input, personal check-in time, and fun activities that will keep your students feeling positive about distance learning. As mentioned earlier, think of yourself as a solid support for your students and cultivate those relationships. Students will have an opportunity to make up missed academic material! Human relationships fostered during this difficult time in our country will provide lasting positive memories.
5. Make it personal.
Make sure you include elements of personal interest and experience in your academic plan. Let students explore their personal interests (science research presentations?), read books that matter to them (Zoom book reports?), and find a platform to share their personal experience of quarantine. Consider having students journal for writing, or even work on creative writing stories incorporating relevant experiences during distance learning. These activities will not only be academic, they will also help students express themselves and process their feelings about this experience that may be scary, stressful, or just plain hard for them.
This experience with distance learning is a valuable opportunity to expand your teaching repertoire. It is an opportunity to incorporate more technology in our teaching and learning, while also helping students be resilient. Who knows what the future will bring, or how we will blend these new elements of education with the more traditional classroom environment?
Stay strong, my friends, and ready for whatever comes next!